First things first
I’ma say all the words inside my head
I’m fired up and tired of the way that things have been…
– Believer, Imagine Dragons
Well, that escalated quickly.
I shouldn’t be surprised, really. Reddit doesn’t exactly have the best reputation. Not that all of Reddit is a terrible place – it’s too big to be as bad as all that – but some parts of it are… shall we say, excessive? [That link is definitely not safe for anybody…] More to the point, though, we’re talking about online forums which, much like public forums throughout history, are moderated by a few or are left un-moderated and so allow for two types of tyranny: rule by a few or rule by the loudest and most obnoxious. When you add in the anonymity granted by the forum, you remove one of the few controls we have in the real world: the ability to punch an offensive person in the face. This physical immunity encourages people to greater and greater forms of excess.
As I said in these other posts, I understand why the one thread was locked down. From an outside view, it was my first post with no history of contribution; the definition clearly excludes certain types of commonly accepted RPGs; and I was responding frequently and without taking the time to explain my reasoning – which was absolutely my fault because I assumed that my answers implied certain things when they did not. So it’s reasonable that a moderator would put a stop to the discussion.
Still… acknowledging that does not inherently invalidate the responses I received. Let’s consider:
“Trying to find an exact definition of something like RPGs is… useless, senseless, and uninteresting. Or, rather, trying to decide what is and isn’t an RPG, and then deciding that some things that are labelled as RPGs actually aren’t is a foolish endeavour (sic). You’ll gain absolutely nothing, except maybe the smug impression of playing “real” RPGs if that’s your temperament…”
“Are you saying that gmless (sic) games aren’t RPGs? Because if the definition states that RPG games have a GM but there are games without GMs that are still considered RPGs then that definition doesn’t work.”
“Many RPGs have a GM role, but not all. Many use polyhedral dice, but not all. Some use d6s, some are diceless (sic). Most have a combat system, but some do not.”
“How can you define role-playing games with out (sic) a broad definition?”
“Microscope and Kingdom are most definitely roleplaying games. By requiring a GM in your definition, you exclude them, making your definition invalid.”
“So Fiasco, Happy Birthday Robot, Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple, The Quiet Year, and The Shab Al-Hiri Roach — all well-respected games solidly accepted as part of the RPG hobby — aren’t RPGs? One of which won an Ennie, with at least 5 other Ennie nominations among the others? “
This is the attitude of the community: don’t tell me what I’m doing is wrong. Be inclusive; don’t be exclusive; don’t set up barriers to entry. Because that makes us feel attacked and we can’t handle someone challenging our assumptions.
Except this is what we do. This is what we, as rational, thinking creatures, have done for all of human history. We observe, we analyze, we describe, we theorize, we classify; and the results of this process are everywhere around us. All of our technical, sociological, theological, scientific and other advancements exist because someone, somewhere, took the time to ask and answer a question.
And yes, I’m just conceited enough to compare myself to the giants of the past.
What do I hope to achieve with this? (It’s telling that not one person has thought to ask this question.) A better understanding of the hobby. If we define something, using specific and precise language, we create opportunities to challenge that definition. It isn’t necessary to have a definition, of course; someone saw an opportunity and created the first GM-less RPG, which opened the door for similar games; and that happened without the sort of definition I’m looking for. Having a definition, however, will make more opportunities.
Can the GM and player share world-creation responsibilities, as suggested by the various GM-lite or GM-less games? Yes but doing so creates a different sort of limit on the game. With a single GM responsible for the world-setting, you have a neutral participant; she is not concerned with the success or failure of the PCs. She has no vested interest in the players’ success (beyond being a friend and an empathetic human being). When the game shares world-ownership, the participant is put into a position of conflicting priorities: he wants his character to succeed but he’s been given control over a portion of the world. Why would he not use that to his advantage? Maybe the better question is, why would he want to cheat the game that way? Well, if the game offers rewards similar to games like D&D or the Palladium Fantasy RPG, then the player has the incentive. Remove those rewards and the player can’t be tempted by the rules of the game.
Can you have a risk/reward system and limit the game by means of story or plot elements? Yes and it may be preferable to do so when you’re just learning how to run as a new gamemaster. Doing so limits player agency and will eventually run counter to the purpose behind a risk/reward system. It can be done but it’s definitely better to learn how to run a game without story restrictions. Or you can run a game without the risk/reward system. It’s an integral part of an RPG, near as I can tell, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do without.
There are other questions raised by defining RPGs. Mostly, at least in my head, they’re half-formed and require time to work themselves out. And as the definition I wrote is still a draft so for the time-being, I have to accept that this is an unsettled issue.